World Cup finalists and Asian newcomers Australia have been placed among the bottom rung of countries for next month's Asian Cup qualification draw.

Australia, who officially join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on January 1, 2006, have been placed in Pot D alongside Palestine, Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

The situation throws up the possibility of three World Cup finalists competing in a single qualifying group for the 2007 Asian Cup, to be hosted jointly by Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

"We are going on how the teams performed at the previous Asian Cup (2004, in China)," an AFC spokesman said. "In this case, Australia do not have a record, so they are at the bottom.

"If we went according to FIFA rankings, of course, the situation would be different."

Australia are ranked 48th in the world and fifth among Asian teams.

But it is not enough to help them sneak into Pot A, which will contain World Cup finalists Japan and Iran, plus China, Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Jordan for the January 4 draw.

Pot B features two more countries playing in Germany next year - South Korea and Saudi Arabia - along with Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

The third tier, Pot C, will contain United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Singapore and Hong Kong.

One country from each pot will be drawn on January 4 into six qualifying groups of four teams each.

In the past, Pot D offered few worries for the stronger teams but, with Australia lurking, there will be some tense moments this time around.

Pakistan and Bangladesh are to play off in order to qualify for a place in Pot D.

At the end of the qualifiers, the top two teams from each of the six groups will advance to the finals.

Japan are the defending champions, having beaten hosts China in the 2004 final in Beijing.

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